Freedom Train North: Stories of the Underground Railroad in Wisconsin

by Julia Pferdehirt

A history of Wisconsin's involvement in the underground railroad perfect for fourth... read more

A history of Wisconsin's involvement in the underground railroad perfect for fourth grade readers but of interest to many others as well draws on extensive research to present real-life stories of African Americans who sought refuge in Wisconsin during the time of slavery or who passed through the state on their way to freedom and individuals in the state, both black and white, who helped them. Pferdehirt emphasizes the intense desire for self-determination among African Americans that fueled the abolitionist movement and makes it clear that these were people intent on freeing themselves, although the assistance of white and black abolitionists became critical once an individual made the decision to run. Drawing an important distinction between what is known and what must be conjectured about the individual lives and events she describes, she explains in her introduction that "when a story includes spoken words, those words were actually said or written by these people many years ago. Thoughts and feelings described were also recorded by the people who experienced them. However, when personal accounts were not recorded you may be asked to imagine how people felt and thought." Underground Railroad activity in Wisconsin was not nearly as common as in states farther south and east, but Pferdehirt has retold events that happened across the eastern and central part of the state, from Beloit to Green Bay, Madison to Milwaukee, in towns both small and large. Specific communities mentioned in the stories are pictured on a map at the beginning of the book. Black-and-white reproductions of powerful paintings by Jerry Butler that depict scenes from a number of the stories, and black-and-white photographs of historical pictures and documents, bring added interest to each of the stories detailed. This singular volumealso includes an extensive bibliography of sources and a chapter-by-chapter list of suggested books and web sites where readers can learn more about the specific events and the underground railroad in general. One copy of the book, which was funded by the Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Commission, has been distributed to each public and most private elementary and middle schools in Wisconsin, and to every Wisconsin public library. (Age 9-14)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 1998

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